Book Review: When the Stars Go Dark by Paula McLain #BookReview #WhenTheStarsGoDark #Suspense

When the Stars Go Dark by Paula McLain


From the New York Times bestselling author of The Paris Wife comes an atmospheric novel of intertwined destinies and heart-wrenching suspense: A detective hiding away from the world. A series of disappearances that reach into her past. Can solving them help her heal?

Anna Hart is a seasoned missing persons detective in San Francisco with far too much knowledge of the darkest side of human nature. When tragedy strikes her personal life, Anna, desperate and numb, flees to the Northern California village of Mendocino to grieve. She lived there as a child with her beloved foster parents, and now she believes it might be the only place left for her. Yet the day she arrives, she learns a local teenage girl has gone missing. The crime feels frighteningly reminiscent of the most crucial time in Anna’s childhood, when the unsolved murder of a young girl touched Mendocino and changed the community forever. As past and present collide, Anna realizes that she has been led to this moment. The most difficult lessons of her life have given her insight into how victims come into contact with violent predators. As Anna becomes obsessed with the missing girl, she must accept that true courage means getting out of her own way and learning to let others in.

Weaving together actual cases of missing persons, trauma theory, and a hint of the metaphysical, this propulsive and deeply affecting novel tells a story of fate, necessary redemption, and what it takes, when the worst happens, to reclaim our lives–and our faith in one another.

My Thoughts:

Anna’s an experienced detective specializing in cases involving missing people–specifically children. After suffering a family tragedy in San Francisco, Anna leaves for the coastal community of Mendocino, where she grew up, to deal with her emotions and get back on her feet. She’s coping with trauma from recent events and her childhood and hopes to find a way to heal so she can return to her family. While in Mendocino, she partners with an old friend and decides to take on a case involving a missing young girl. This could be exactly what Anna needs to break free and finally heal from her traumatic past.

This is my first read by Paula McLain, and it didn’t disappoint. She created an interesting heroine who appears to have a broken interior, and you can feel her pain. Anna’s extremely complex, passionate about her work, and practically obsessive at times. During earlier chapters, I just kept asking myself: what happened to her? Emotions were strongest for me during flashbacks of her past relationship with Hap. It’s her past that fully engaged and connected me with this story. This book explores how past traumas have the power to follow you through life, but it also includes themes of family, forgiveness, community, and hope. It was interesting to read the author’s note and discover that some of the complexities of Anna’s character connect with the author’s past as well.

Thriller, mystery, crime, suspense—call it what you will, but for me, this book had a little bit of everything. This wasn’t a nail-biting thriller for me but more of a slower-paced, compelling, suspense mystery that forced me to continue turning the pages. The gradual progression was almost too slow for me, but it was perfectly balanced with Anna’s past thanks to anecdotal snippets the author wove into the story. Several happenings and mysteries kept me guessing until the end. Waiting for Anna’s story was frustrating, but it’s what made this story more of a page-turner for me.

This book is written beautifully with lyrical prose that pulled me in from the very first page. The descriptions are wonderful, creating an atmospheric story that makes you want to experience the beauties of Mendocino yourself. Certain content might be difficult for some readers because it involves crimes against children, but I don’t consider it too disturbing. Don’t get me wrong–these crimes are every parent’s nightmare, but they aren’t highly detailed, and they’re short-lived. It actually compelled me to get online and learn more about the true crimes that took place.

The slower parts in the story made me believe that this might get too drawn out, but overall, this turned out to be a good read. I’m thrilled that the whodunit wasn’t easy to figure out. I’ll definitely be checking out some of Paula McLain’s older books in the future.


I’d like to thank NetGalley, the author, and the publisher for sharing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Find this book on Amazon and Goodreads:

  • Publisher : Ballantine Books (April 13, 2021)
  • Language : English
  • Hardcover : 384 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 0593237897
  • ISBN-13 : 978-0593237892

Thanks for reading my review! Have you read this book or other books by Paula McLain? Feel free to leave your thoughts below in the comments section.


22 thoughts on “Book Review: When the Stars Go Dark by Paula McLain #BookReview #WhenTheStarsGoDark #Suspense

    1. I went into this thinking it was a thriller, but it really isn’t. There were a few parts that got me on the edge, but it’s more suspense than anything. She made it really interesting weaving in the true crime, and of course I was shocked to learn that one of the perpetrators is still on death row from 1993. Crazy. Hope you like it if you try it. Thanks.


  1. I’m so glad you enjoyed it too. I was worried about it being atmospheric because they tend to read slower for me but all the different components worked so well together that it was never a problem. And, I loved that the whodunit was not easy to figure out too! Great review!

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. I think you’ll like it, Carla. There were a few details that were hard to read, but they were short-lived. Perhaps what was more difficult for me was looking up the true crimes and discovering that at least one person is still on death row since 1994. Hard to believe. Can’t wait to hear your thoughts on it.

      Liked by 1 person

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